By Alaina Leary
Today we’re pleased to welcome Raakhee Mirchandani and Holly Hatam to the WNDB blog to discuss Hair Twins.
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Satya: Hi mama!
Raakhee: Are you gonna ask me some questions?
Number one, why did you want to write HAIR TWINS?
I wanted to write HAIR TWINS because I think that the stories that happen in our apartment are really special
and I want to share our family with the whole world.
Where did the inspiration behind the book come from?
From you! It came from you, and from Dada, watching him do your hair every day.
I feel really inspired by who you are and what this family stands for and
it’s exciting to be able to write about it!
The hair cheers part is so cute! How did you come up with it?
When you were little you would cheers with your dudu or you would cheers with your water
and when we dance to bungara we cheer with our hips.
So I thought it would be fun to do a hair cheers.
Satya: Want to do one right now?
Raakhee: Um, sure! [laughing]
How did you decide what elements you wanted to include to show the importance of hair in the story?
So I compare hair in the story to other things that I find magical and beautiful also. Music, nature, rivers.
For me, it felt very natural to connect our hair ritual to other magical things in my life and in the world.
As much as this book is about Sikh tradition and pride in someone’s culture and religion it’s also about the relationship between the girl and her father.
Why did you want to highlight that relationship in this book?
You’re right; it is about being proud of who you are, and for us, that is being proud of our hair, and for you, it’s being proud of being Sikh
but it is about the relationship between a girl and her dad. I have a great relationship with my dad.
It’s something that’s really important to me. You certainly have a great relationship with your Dada.
I love that! I think it’s a really special bond, and so it was important to me as I looked at all of the books that are out there in the world, certainly ones that we read I wanted to show a dad like yours, a dad like mine, a strong brown dad — in your case, one with a turban —
in the center of a book, on the cover of a book. That was really important to me.
The scenes about racing at the park are so right. Is this based on something from your life?
Um, so the scene from the book is not quite like our life but though we do like to race.
Why do the kids race as zombies, unicorns, and rockets?
Oh, they race as zombies, unicorns, and rockets because you’re really interested in space travel, in unicorns, and in creepy things like zombies and Raakhee: So I have become interested in them also. So that’s why they race like that.
Satya: What other books do you think HAIR TWINS is in a conversation with?
I think HAIR TWINS is in a conversation with THE MANY COLORS OF HARPREET SINGH,
I think it’s in conversation with HAIR LOVE, I LOVE MY HAIR, and THE PROUDEST BLUE.
Oh, and EYES THAT KISS IN THE CORNERS! It’s definitely in conversation with EYES THAT KISS IN THE CORNERS. Uh, can I finish? Satya: Yeah!
Raakhee: And EYES THAT KISS IN THE CORNERS.
Do you have recommendations for other kidlit books?
Yeah! How much time do you have?
ALL BECAUSE YOU MATTER, by Tami Charles,
I would say ALWAYS ANJALI by Sheetal Sheth, I would say FAUJA SINGH KEEPS GOING by Simran Jeet Singh.
Um, I would say one of my very favorites, THANK YOU, OMU!
What about you? You have any recommendations?
LAXMI’S MOOCH by Shelly Anand, the great one.
Um, and… I forgot one…
Satya: BABYSITTERS’ CLUB, I know that one.
Raakhee: BABYSITTERS’ CLUB.
Satya: And there was one more.
Raakhee: Okay, well maybe it’ll come to you later. Satya: Okay.
Raakhee: Well, thanks for a great interview! Bye.
Satya: Bye, Mama!
Interview With Holly Hatam
Why did you want to illustrate Hair Twins? How were you approached for this project and what drew you to it?
As a person of color myself, and also raising a biracial son, illustrating books with diverse characters is very important to me. Especially when they are the star of the book and not a secondary character or sidekick. Growing up, I never saw a character in a book or movie that looked like me. And now as a mom, I’m still seeing the same thing with my son. I want him to be able to identify himself in books and feel seen and heard.
What tools do you use in your illustration process, and how would you describe your art style?
All my illustrations are done digitally. I would describe my art style as whimsical, dreamy, and emotional.
The rituals in Hair Twins compare the process of getting ready to a variety of other beautiful things, like music and rivers, and they were illustrated so beautifully. How did you decide how to create those spreads to bring the story to life?
Nature plays a big part in my art. It is where I gather the most inspiration and where I feel most like myself. I wanted to evoke a lot of emotion in those spreads, and nature does that for me.
I know it’s important to you to incorporate as many BIPOC characters into your art as possible, especially main characters. Why is this a priority for you as an artist?
Growing up in the ’80s in a small town as a person of color was hard. I never felt like I belonged. I experienced a lot of racism. I felt invisible and unimportant. Not only at school, but when reading and watching TV. I don’t want my son or any other child to grow up feeling alone and invisible. I want to shine the spotlight on them and give them a voice and to let them know the world loves them as they are.
I also noticed that other marginalized identities are reflected in Hair Twins, including disabled characters and LGBTQ+ families. How do you make those decisions as an illustrator and do you have to advocate for this when you work with publishers?
I always set out to include marginalized groups in all of my books. The world is full of unique, beautifully different people, and books should reflect that. Publishers feel the same way and they have set out to change diversity in books.
As much as this book is about Sikh tradition and pride in one’s religion and culture, it’s also about the relationship between a girl and her dad. How did you reflect that relationship in your art?
I tried to reflect that relationship in the character’s subtle facial expressions. A loving stare or a toothy smile. I also show emotion with the color palette. Lots of warm and happy colors.
What other books do you think Hair Twins is in conversation with?
I would definitely suggest readers check out Matthew Cherry’s Hair Love and Natasha Anastasia Tarpley’s I Love My Hair!
Do you have any recommendations for other kidlit books?
I love the book Eyes that Kiss in the Corners, written by Joanna Ho and illustrated by Dung Ho. I also love The Proudest Blue, written by Ibtihaj Muhammad and illustrated by Hatam Aly.
Raakhee Mirchandani is an award-winning writer and editor and the author of Super Satya Saves the Day. When she isn’t writing, Raakhee is either organizing her book shelves, running races to raise money for kids with cancer, or styling her very curly hair with new oils and potions. She lives in Hoboken, New Jersey, with her husband and daughter, the inspiration for Hair Twins. She invites you to follow her on Twitter @Raakstar and on Instagram @RaakstarWrites.